Course planning3

*Planning your course to help students acquire the thinking skills of the discipline

The nature of the discipline, the process of critical thinking in a discipline is just as important as the material and concepts in your discipline. However, we often tend to give these skills and processes less emphasis in our day to day teaching. So now that you are planning or revising your courses, plan time within the schedule to go over how you think in this discipline. Role model what you do by thinking out loud as you solve problems. Students don’t get the thinking process naturally if they just hear about the content or see experts solving problems easily; however, once they understand the thinking process within the discipline, the content will come much easier to them. This emphasis on role modeling critical thinking skills applies at all levels of courses as the critical thinking skills required varies with the complexity of the material.

*Alignment of Skill Requirement.ppt

Best educational practice models say that students learn more when a course is aligned. Alignment means that the objectives, teaching-learning methods and assessment methods are consistent and coherent. Roger Ideishi developed a beautiful series of graphics to show when a course is aligned and when it is not aligned. He is using these slides in conjunction with the workshops on general education. However, they apply to all courses and not just those with skills. His slides are attached.

*Beginning to do scholarship on your teaching

If you have innovated or find a part of your teaching interesting, you can begin to do some scholarship on your teaching. Start with a question you would like to find the answer to, or think of a way to show that the improvements you make in your courses have been worth making . Then gather data on it.

*Making your course more aligned and more explicit to your students

As you finish off the semester, review your course to make sure that your objectives, teaching/learning activities, and assessments are consistent. Alignment means that if you have evaluation or problem solving as a goal for the course, you give students opportunities to practice these skills and that you assess the students on these skills. A lack of alignment would be is the assessments did not match the level of the goals. At the end of the course review what actually happened compared to what you hoped would happen. Note where you need to make further alignment. Perhaps you need to change how you assess the students toward more projects using authentic assessment (mimics what practitioners do).

Then the next time you teach this course discuss on the first day how your course is aligned. You might want to show your students that the course is aligned in the syllabus. Students will accept why you are asking them to do something if they see is as congruent with the goals of the course.

Aligned courses lead to more learning.

*Teaching models to revise as you plan for next time you teach

Many faculty use a hub and spoke model of course management without even thinking of it. The instructor is the hub because students look to the instructor guidance, feedback, information, assessment. They even answer questions just directed to you and make presentations to you. When you plan your course the next time try not to use the hub and spoke model. Instead diffuse the center by having students look to each for information, for assessment, feedback. Discussions need not be directed by you. As you plan your course, ask yourself, would a hub and spoke diagram work for what I am doing or asking students to do.

*Essential aspects of course planning

When you are planning your course, think of the most important aspects/concepts/values of what you want to cover in the course. One way to do this is to think what you would cover, do or ask the students to do if they only had 3 hours to devote to this topic. This usually gives you the real essential aspects. Then plan your course around this theme.

*Making the implied more visible and constant in your syllabus and first day of class

When we develop our syllabi and our grading policies they make sense to us and often follow from what we believe to be the correct way to teach this course. However, we may not make our logic clear to the students. We might need to elaborate on the implications of our policies. For example:

  • If a professor’s grading policy puts a heavy emphasis on class participation, group work, or written assignments, then that professor probably wants students to be creative, to engage in dialogue, and to interpret texts freely Students may not realize this unless you tell them. However, some times we can give the wrong message by our grading policies. for example.
  • If the grading system is simply an average of two of three test scores, with no emphasis on participation or interactivity, then some students might assume that the professor would almost rather the students not show up for class and get the notes from a friend. So we need to be sure we are being consistent with our messages and our goals. 

*Getting students to understand the relationships among concepts

While experts often see relationships among objects, novices often fail to see these relationships. One reason why novices do not see these relationships is they do not know what should be compared. We often summarize relationships into compare and contrast type tables. In order for students to understand what we mean by compare and contrast, we need to explicitly explain what we mean. We need to help students to understand what are the appropriate criteria that they can use for valid comparison and help students see the big picture.

Some of these ideas come from Virginia Anderson of Townsend University.

*Getting course-specific evaluation information from your students

If you are interested in learning about how your students felt about course-specific activities, such as a unique assignment or a different method of assessment, ask your students to complete a brief survey on these points. This semester you will have to ask your students to complete this survey separate from the university wide course evaluation form. We will be using online, standard course evaluation forms this semester and you will not be able to ask additional questions on these forms this semester (we hope to be able to do so in the future).

Also you might remind your students to complete the online course evaluation form since it will not be given out in class.

*On the first day of class help your students to see the overall consistency in your course

When you plan your course you want to align your objectives with the teaching/learning activities and with what and how you assess your students. This is considered a best practice in education because it leads to increased learning. While you may align your course or make it internally consistent, students may not see this overall integration or alignment. Therefore, you want to make this alignment explicit to the students. You should explain how the course is aligned to the students on the first day and describe it in the syllabus. You might put a table in to show your alignment of objectives, teaching/learning activities and assessment.

*Do your students understand your syllabus and know what will be expected of them?

After the first class or first few classes, you might want to be sure your students have read and understand the syllabus for your course. You might want to do a syllabus check as an online quiz or a short assignment. This assessment can count a little toward their participation grade.

*Getting students’ ideas on how you can improve your course and how they learned.

Toward the end of the semester, ask students to reflect on your course. You might ask them to describe how they learned in this course. What they found confusing, what worked well or suggestions for improvement for the next time you teach this course.

Read over the suggestions and before the last class, thank the students for their feedback and tell them some of the changes you are considering as a result of their feedback. This is also a time to check on the accuracy of your perceptions of what they said. Completing this feedback loop is a models good communication and shows them that you took their comments seriously.


*An activity for the first day of class to find out what concerns the students about your class

Students may have heard rumors about you or your class. They want to hear the truth, but do not have the nerve to ask you directly. Here is a brief activity to answer their concerns.

Ask each student to write their concerns, questions about the course or about you on a piece of paper. Then ask the class to stand up and quickly introduce themselves (name only) to six other people as they exchange papers. After six switches, no one will know who wrote what on the paper. Then ask the students to form small groups of about 5 students each and to pick the questions or concerns that they also want to know about from the papers they are holding. You can address their fears without knowing who expressed them

Good luck getting ready for the semester to start.

*Should you provide students with complete lecture notes? No

Research shows that students learn more when they do not receive complete lecture notes. The process of taking notes in their own words helps students to learn. If you want to help students to learn give them a partial set of notes with major title or headings or an outline where the students have to fill in more details.

Reference: Cornelius & Owen-DeSchryver (2008) Differential effects of full or partial notes on learning outcomes and attendance. Teaching of Psychology, 35 (1), 6-12

*Trying innovations, get feedback and make corrections

If you are trying something new in your courses. Assess how well it is going by determining if the students are learning from it, and if they like it. Once you have the feedback, you can make mid-course corrections, if necessary. If the innovation is a complete failure, abandon it and tell the students why you are not continuing its use. Usually you can find ways to improve it and not abandon it.

*Helping students find what you posted on Angel

Students think differently than we do and navigate Angel sites differently. When students do not find what they are looking for they either get frustrated or contact you right away. If you are adding content, either as attachments, or as links to your material on Angel, please post it several places or at least make reference to it in several places. You might put in under the lesson and the communication tabs.

This tip comes from Jeff Swain, of Penn State University who gave a day long presentation on using Angel more effectively. The plenary part of his presentation is is available on this link.

*Making sure your students understand what is expected of them in your course

About the second or third week of the semester, find out if your students have any questions about your course. You could also ask the students to re-read the syllabus and other handouts such as descriptions of assignments and projects before you ask students to respond to you.

You might create a discussion board on Angel and let the students ask questions about the course, and let them answer each others questions. You might respond if they have the wrong idea or if only you would know the answer to the question.

You could also ask students to email you such questions or spend the last few minutes of the next class asking students to write their questions. Then either go over the questions in class or develop a comprehensive answer sheet.

Doing this activity is especially important if students come into your class after the first day or if you are doing non-traditional activities or assessments in the course.

Leave a Reply